Jachter's Halacha Files
(and other Halachic compositions)
A Student Publication of the Torah Academy of Bergen County
Parshat Emor 3 Iyar 5764 May 8, 2003 Vol.13 No.31
Strengthening Our Belief in Hashem
and His Beautiful Torah
by Rabbi Chaim Jachter
It is worthwhile to occasionally explore the foundations of our beliefs and lives. Thus, I wish to share with readers of Kol Torah why I am completely convinced of the truth of Hashem and His Holy Torah. I wish to present five approaches that I have found exceedingly convincing. I wish to follow the Rambam’s example from the introduction to his commentary to Pirkei Avot (called the Shemonah Perakim) and clarify that some of the ideas I will present come from outside our Tradition. The Rambam urges us in this context “to accept the Truth whatever its source.”
It is important to clarify that I do not seek to “prove” Hashem’s existence, because as modern philosophers have noted, this is not a productive exercise. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik in his classic essay The Lonely Man of Faith cites Soren Kierkegaard’s (a major mid-nineteenth century religious philosopher) reaction when hearing that the medieval philosopher Anselm of Canterbury engaged in prayer an entire evening beseeching God to help him formulate his celebrated Ontological Proof of God’s Existence. Kierkegaard, in turn, asked, does a bride in the embrace of her beloved bridegroom require proof of his existence? Kierkegaard argues that Anselm’s intense prayer constituted a more authentic “proof” of God than the Ontological Proof.
Moreover, modern philosophers (such as Descartes and Kant) have demonstrated that one can “prove” very little, if anything. Descartes notes that one cannot prove that other people exist, as perhaps it is merely an evil demon that is painting a false image on one’s brain to fool one into thinking that others exist. Despite the inability to prove the existence of others, I nevertheless am one hundred percent convinced of the existence of others. Similarly, I am thoroughly convinced of the Truth of Hashem and His Torah.
Wasserman – The Argument from Design
Rav Elchanan Wasserman (in his Kovetz Maamarim) argues that it is obvious that there is a God from the fact that we see order in this world. Common sense teaches that this is impossible for this to happen by itself and thus it is obvious that the world has a Creator. Philosophers have traditionally referred to this type of proof as the argument from design. Many earlier Jewish philosophers such as Rabbeinu Bachya espoused this argument for Hashem’s existence.
Rav Elchanan takes this argument one step further arguing that it is also obvious that the Creator would provide a manual on how to function in the world He created. We may draw an analogy to a car manufacturer who provides a manual on how to operate the car he has created. So too, argues Rav Elchanan, common sense dictates that Hashem provided a manual, namely the Torah, for humans to know how to act.
Ramban and Kuzari
For the Ramban (commentary to Shemot 13:16) and the Kuzari the most persuasive argument for faith in Torah is Tradition. As the Kuzari notes, the miracles associated with great events in Jewish history, Yetziat Mitzrayim and Maamad Har Sinai, were witnessed by millions of people who passed this information to their descendants year after year at their Seders. This is unlike the miracles claimed by other religions that are described as having occurred before a very limited number of people.
One might argue that Bnei Yisrael accepted the Torah because they were a docile and gullible people who accepted anything and everything that Moshe Rabbeinu told them, because of his seductive and persuasive oratory. However, this is hardly true as Bnei Yisrael regrettably were constantly bickering and disobedient to Moshe Rabbeinu. Moreover, Moshe Rabbeinu was a very poor speaker. Virtually the only time we were unified was at Har Sinai (see Rashi Shemot 19:1). The reason we united at Sinai was that the authenticity of the Har Sinai experience was profoundly compelling and unquestionably persuasive.
Similarly, we find in every generation that observant Jews are not passive and gullible people who are accepting of everything. Every significant Talmudic and Halachik issue is carefully examined and great experts and laypeople vigorously and rigorously analyze every new and old opinion. Yet observant Jews agree upon core values and beliefs such as the divine authorship of the torah. The Rambam (Hilchot Mamrim 1:3) indicates that if there is no dispute regarding a particular law then this law must originate as a tradition from Sinai. Examples of such laws are the Halacha that our Tefillin must be colored black and that our Mezuzot contain only the two Parshiot of Shema and Vihaya Im Shamoa. I have often surmised that these matters must be of heavenly origin; otherwise, we would be fighting rigorously about these laws in the manner we do about so many other Halachot.
Incidentally, it seems that this is the reason why the Sefer HaChinuch (21) rules that women are obligated in the Mitzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim (recounting the story of our Exodus from Egypt) even though it is a time-bound positive Mitzvah from which women are normally excused (see the Minchat Chinuch’s criticism of the chinuch’s ruling. The essence of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim is the transmittal of faith from one generation to another by recounting and authenticating the Exodus story. Women are thus certainly included in this Mitzvah. This also explains why grandparents play such an important role to in Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim (see Shemot 10:2 and the comments of the Oznayim LaTorah ad. loc.). Josh Strobel of TABC uses a similar argument to explain the Ramban’s opinion that women are obligated to count the Omer (see my Bikkurei Sukkah section 60).
The Argument from
Jewish History – The Aruch Hashulchan
The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 1:10) wrote (in 1903):
“There is no greater sign and proof than our survival of nearly two thousand years of Exile. The only reason for our survival is because of Hashem’s Hashgacha (divine providence) that is not removed from us even for a moment like a father who watches over his only child and chastises him for the latter’s benefit.”
Indeed, one who ponders the wonders of Jewish history realizes that logically we should have disappeared long ago. Our survival attests to the fact that Hashem watches over His special people. Indeed, the stories of Am Yisrael’s close encounters with extinction in the Tanach (such as the infertility of Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu as well as Yitzchak Avinu and Rivkah Imeinu, the Exodus from Mitzrayim and the parting of the Yam Suf, and being saved from Haman) have been repeated in our time.
The Jewish People seemed to have been lost and finished as a nation after World War II. Yet we managed to establish Medinat Yisrael in 1948 despite overwhelming odds. Rav Yehuda Amital (Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion) has often commented that some future historians will likely cast grave doubts on the authenticity of the story of a downtrodden people, who lost a third of its people within six years, who, three years later, managed to reestablish its homeland in an extremely hostile environment by throwing seltzer bottles from planes and firing fake cannons (such as the Davidka).
In America, as well as Israel, sociologists in the 1950’s predicted that Orthodox Judaism would soon disappear. Look Magazine in the 1950’s ran a famous cover story entitled “The Vanishing Orthodox Jew.” Baruch Hashem, at this point, there are (Bli Ayin Hara) approximately one million Orthodox Jews in this country (including Chareidi and Modern Orthodox Jews) and the once popular Look Magazine has vanished. Moreover, Orthodox Jewry is the only group of Jews that is, with Hashem’s help, increasing in numbers.
Interestingly, Akiva Weiss of TABC has suggested (also see Rav Soloveitchik’s Kol Dodi Dofeik) that the reason that this generation is the one that Hashem has decided to create Medinat Yisrael, is that this was necessary to facilitate the continuation of our faith in Torah after the Holocaust. Indeed, Rav Soloveitchik recalled that when he traveled from Boston to New York to give Shiur at Yeshiva University during the Second World War, he constantly encountered missionaries who argued that the Holocaust was “proof” that Hashem had abandoned the Jewish People. The establishment of Medinat Yisrael undermined this argument that was used against us.
Rav Soloveitchik –
The Argument from Halacha
Rav Soloveitchik writes in his classic essay, The Ish Halacha, that the Halacha is the most compelling proof for the truth of Torah. I understand this to mean that the scholar (or student guided by a competent teacher) who plumbs the depths of the Halachic system will be overwhelmed with its beauty and majesty to the point that he is left with no other option than to accept the divine origin of this system. It also might mean that one who spends a lifetime dedicated to abiding by the Halachic system will conclude that it is indeed the finest prescription for leading a fulfilling and content life. He will also comprehend why a recurring theme in Sefer Devarim that the Torah’s rules are “Litov Lach,” serve our best interest.
Another meaning of Rav Soloveitchik’s assertion appears to be the incredible enterprise of applying the ancient Halacha to the contemporary situation. The world in general and the Jewish People specifically in the last hundred years have undergone a dramatic and unprecedented degree of change in all area ranging from technology to sociology and political reality. Nonetheless, Poskim have readily applied the venerated concepts of the Gemara to modern circumstances. Amazingly, Poskim find a precedent in the Gemara for virtually every new phenomenon that emerges in society.
For example, precedents exist in the Gemara for electricity (see Sanhedrin 77), in vitro fertilization (see Chullin 70), and Jews who deviate from Halacha who are psychologically unable to grasp their error (Sanhedrin 26). A perusal of every issue of the Israeli Torah journal Techumin demonstrates the ability of Halacha to be applied to the contemporary situation in Medinat Yisrael despite the fact that we had not enjoyed political independence for nearly two thousand years.
Similarly, it is profoundly inspirational to study Tanach using the methodologies of the teachers at Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Herzog College, such as Rav Yoel Bin Nun and Rav Elchanan Samet. They have used the sophisticated tools of modern literary analysis that Bible critics use to denigrate Torah, to actually provide stunningly profound insights into Tanach and Chazal. A perusal of every issue of Megadim contains breathtaking new insights into our holy Torah and Chazal. Indeed, Rav Mordechai Breuer observes (in an essay published in Herzog College’s Esther Hee Haddassa p. 66) that just as the pole that Haman wished to hang Mordechai upon was used to hang Haman, the methodologies that Bible critics wish to use to disparage the Torah are used to bring glory to Torah and Chazal.
Rambam on Ahavat Hashem
The Rambam (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 2:2) writes that an appreciation of nature can draw one close to Hashem and love Him (Ahavat Hashem) and stand in awe of Him (Yirat Hashem). In our generation we are given an even greater opportunity to draw close to Hashem due to the magnificent scientific discoveries of the last hundred years. One who contemplates the magnificence even of the tiny e-Coli and certainly the intricacies of the human eye has the ability to profoundly enrich his Yirat Hashem and Ahavat Hashem.
Rav Yoel Bin Nun on Megillat Esther
One may wonder why so many intelligent people are not convinced of the truth of Hashem and Torah. Rav Elchanan Wasserman (Kovetz Maamarim) ascribes such lack of belief to people’s wish to justify engaging in inappropriate activities. He cites as proof the Pasuk in Tehillim (14:1) that states “a degenerate states in his heart that there is no God.”
Another explanation for this phenomenon emerges from an understanding of the methodology of Megillat Esther as explained by Rav Yoel Bin Nun (in an essay published in Herzog College’s Esther Hee Hadassah). Rav Yoel notes that the Megillat Esther at first glance seems quite secular. For example, it contains no mention of God and even seems to deliberately omit mentioning Hashem’s name (see, for example, Esther 4:14-16). Rav Yoel explains that one has to look behind the superficial presentation of events in Megillat Esther to discover Hashem, such as why Esther among all the beautiful women of the Persian Empire was chosen as queen, why Mordechai foiled a plot to kill Achashveirosh, and why Achashveirosh was sleepless and reading about Mordechai’s actions the night that Haman came to ask permission to execute Mordechai.
Similarly, the world functions today as it is depicted in Megillat Esther. Hashem has placed a secular veneer upon the world and we must use our common sense to peel back this secular layer in order to be able to find Hashem. Those who do not believe in Hashem and his Torah have not exercised their common sense and see beyond the secular surface of our world.
Bertrand Russell (a British philosopher and mathematician who was a foremost proponent of atheism in the early twentieth century) once was asked what he will respond if after he dies he meets God and He will judge him for his lack of belief. Russell responded that he would ask God, why did You not provide sufficient evidence of Your existence. Hashem might respond, why didn’t you exercise your common sense and look beyond the secular surface of the world, and see the overwhelming evidence of My existence and of My Holy Torah.
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